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Beyond a Humpty-Dumpty Narrative: In Search of New Rhymes and Reasons in the Research of Contemporary American Jewish Identity Formation
Oriented predominantly by a particular master narrative, knowledge produced by the social scientific study of Jewish identity formation tends to ask some questions but not others. Engaging in a study comprised of a select but key cross-section of the last half-century’s leading contributors to scholarship about American Jewish identity formation, the article exposes this narrative with the allegorical aid of the poem, “Humpty Dumpty.” Applied to the field of Jewish identity formation research, the rhyme about this ill-fated character depicts an allegory of the Jewish people as having fallen down to America from some high place; namely, pre-America, pre-Holocaust, and sometimes also a pre-Enlightenment, pre-emancipation Europe. The story then concludes on a tragic note, with all the Jewish professionals and leaders failing to put the Jews together again in accordance with their allegedly whole state that had existed previously in Europe. Elucidating the “wall,” “fall,” and the failure to “repair,” the article demonstrates how social scientists of Jewish identity formation have, until quite recently, tended to default to one or another version of this same story of decline.
Updated: Mar. 12, 2014